By: Meesh Shanmugam
Rangers 2 Pens 1 (OT)
Series: NYR wins series, 4-1
Spaling (1) from Downie, Crosby
Click here to read the goal assessments
Spaling (Tripping) – Overly aggressive (puts his stick down on the stick of St. Louis to pin it down, but then hits his leg and skate to take him down for a trip)
Winnik (holding) – Unnecessary (wraps his right arm and stick around Zuccarello as they skate from a faceoff and he takes Zuccarello down)
Comeau (holding) – Unnecessary (wraps his arm around Hagelin’s face and pulls him down to the ice for a penalty)
Notable: Patric Hornqvist was among the best players on the ice yet again. His tenacity was second to none, as it had been all series. Evgeni Malkin stepped up his game quite a bit (6 shots, 3 takeaways, 2 pass interceptions, etc.) but he wasn’t able to hit that level consistently (2 giveaways, 2 failed clears, etc). It was a valiant final effort in a series that clearly never saw him at 100%. Daniel Winnik was disappointing as he showed very little in terms of forechecking and puck control. He lost the puck three times in the offensive zone and took a holding penalty in the defensive zone in an otherwise invisible performance.
Notable: Marc-Andre Fleury played a strong game, as he did in every game this series. I did mark him as partially at fault for the first goal against for not handling the rebound and being unaware of the puck’s location, but he made more than enough big saves to make up for that through the game. Paul Martin continued to show signs of fatigue in the defensive zone, losing the puck a couple of times and demonstrating some issues with clearing the puck. He did intercept two passes in the offensive zone and got a great shot off on Lundqvist, but it’s clear that the end of the season wore him down. Ben Lovejoy was partially at fault for both goals against, first with a failed clear on a penalty kill and then with just no coverage whatsoever as he hesitated on the crease and did nothing on Hagelin’s OT winner. No matter what else he did (3 blocks, 3 broken-up plays), those results pretty much tell the story.
Game 1: Slow start dooms Penguins as they allow two goals in the first period in 2-1 loss.
Game 2: Special teams gets the job done as PP scores two goals and PK goes 6-for-7 in 4-3 win.
Game 3: Pens get off to a slow start again and can’t rally the offense in time in 2-1 loss.
Game 4: Relatively strong start doesn’t last in sloppy game for both teams as Pens lose 2-1 in OT.
Game 5: Desperation and a strong performance aren’t enough as Pens lose 2-1 in OT again.
Pens Goal Assessments
Rangers Goal Assessments
For my money, no one was better in this series from shift to shift than Patric Hornqvist. Whether it was getting to the front of the net, grinding down low, or backchecking, Hornqvist was willing to do anything and everything to make a productive play. He was everything the Penguins have been looking for in the playoffs in previous years.
As a whole, it was the first line that did the best work. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz both showed flashes of brilliance in this series, but they also struggled at times as well (especially Kunitz). In the end, the first line was the only one that could dependably create chances in every game, though clearly capitalizing on them was a different story.
Evgeni Malkin was injured entering the series and was clearly playing injured during the series. He showed no skating burst, a lack of physical ability, and simply didn’t look like the Geno that could take over games during the regular season. He certainly tried though, especially in Game 5,
Maxim Lapierre proved himself to be a playoff performer in some ways. He did his job as an agitator, was great on the penalty kill, and looked good around the net and low in the offensive zone as well. He was also quite dependable on faceoffs, especially on some key ones in the defensive zone. That being said, he wasn’t perfect by any means and the 4th line had its share of lapses at 5-on-5.
David Perron, Daniel Winnik, and Blake Comeau were all extremely underwhelming. Perron showed some signs of life in the offensive zone, but couldn’t contribute much in a tangible way. Winnik spent time on all four lines and eventually had his ice time cut severely as he couldn’t control the puck in any situation. Comeau made some foolish decisions, whether it was in the way of taking penalties or forcing bad passes. He was in the penalty box for two goals against this series, which is extremely significant in such a tightly played series. Comeau has had a wrist injury to deal with, but that doesn’t excuse poor decision-making.
Scott Wilson showed some promise in very limited ice time. Props to Steve Downie for never going crazy and costing the team a game like we all worried about during the season. Beau Bennett…well, Bennett gets an incomplete as he has for his entire career so far. Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling were fine, but judging them on their price tags will cause some long and interesting offseason discussions.
Ian Cole was the most promising of the group and contributed a bit to the offense, but he appeared to wear down with heavy minutes….and the weight of Rob Scuderi. Scuderi struggled with getting the puck out of the zone through the entire series, especially with his blind clears up the boards. His decisions seemed to flip between putting Cole in a bad situation and turning the puck over on an attempted clear. This pairing was inconsistent through the series because it completely depended on how much energy Cole had to save Scuderi.
The “top” pairing of Ben Lovejoy and Paul Martin looked like they were in over their heads. Martin showed a lack of burst and creativity through the series and I actually marked him down for the most goals at fault in the series with four. Lovejoy produced more offensively than Martin to save his goals contribution rating, but he was equally in over his head with some major gaffes, including both costly overtime goals in Games 4 and 5. This was easily the most disappointing pairing and it certainly appears that it was because one guy played too many minutes before the series and the other guy was required to play too many minutes in the series.
Finally, the Brian Dumoulin – Taylor Chorney pairing showed promise and potential. Dumoulin had a shaky start to the series but seemed to grow with every game. His skating was superb once he got his feet under him and he made some great reads moving to the offensive zone. He still has plenty to work on, but there is potential there. Meanwhile, Chorney was adequate in every way possible as he provided solid defense to help Dumoulin and added a little help to the second powerplay on the offensive side. Despite tough shifts here and there, the AHL pairing made for a surprisingly comfortable NHL pairing in this series.
Marc-Andre Fleury did almost everything he could to keep the Penguins in this series. Oddly enough, I did mark him down for being partially at fault for three goals against, but he made so many saves that he had no business making in each of those games, that it evened itself out at worst and likely more than made up for it. Fleury was great moving side-to-side and survived several onslaughts from the crease and slot throughout the series. For a nice change of pace, the series certainly wasn’t on him (though he owed the team that if we want to look at history).
Early Offseason Thoughts
Plain and simple, the Rangers were a better team that beat a worse team. The Rangers did not look impressive doing it either. The Penguins were essentially doomed in this series once they finished losing the group of Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, and Derrick Pouliot. Their general skillset was too important to the system for the Penguins to survive without all of them. Losing always hurts, but the Penguins didn’t lose their “composure”, didn’t have to deal with a Fleury meltdown, and did keep the series close despite what a 4-1 series loss may suggest. These are all valuable memories and lessons moving forward for the team. For once, they will go into the next postseason not with thoughts of how they failed, or blew it, or melted down. Next postseason will be built from a hard-fought series despite not having the necessary pieces to win. In a transition year, the Penguins may have built a foundation for another franchise upswing. There are plenty of reasons for hope next year.
Who will be back next year? Now that’s a question that will take months to answer. Personally, I don’t believe Mike Johnston should be fired. The theories he implemented showed promise and he should have a better roster to work with next season (or at least a healthier one hopefully). I’m also sure he learned a lot this season, and based on how deeply he thinks through the game, I’m excited by the prospects of how he could adjust to the NHL next year. Rick Tocchet on the other hand…I can’t find a single argument to not replace him. Oh, and give Mike Bales anything and everything he ever wants for the work he has done with Fleury.
Moving on from Johnston – the GM situation clearly needs to be cleaned up, if nothing else. I would imagine the Pensblog report about Rutherford is accurate. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the large group of GMs should be thinned out for the sake of creating a clearer direction for this team. I tried desperately to logic my way into accepting the Lovejoy trade and that decision was terrible in hindsight (both by the GMs and by me). The Bennett situation is confusing at best. The prospect group needs to be replenished badly. The GMs and scouts need to be looked at again to start working on these issues.
Then there are the players. I’ll leave trades out of this for now (Sutter? Spaling?) and quickly look at the free agents:
UFAs: Downie, Adams, Comeau, Lapierre, Winnik, Martin, Ehrhoff, Chorney, Greiss, Ebbett
RFAs: Bennett, Cole, Megna, Dumoulin, Farnham (and a few other AHLers)
In that entire group, the only two players I feel strongly about are Cole and Dumoulin, who will surely be retained as RFAs. I wouldn’t mind seeing Lapierre come back, but only if it’s at a price cut from his current $1.2 mil, which I don’t expect to happen. It would also be nice to see Chorney return at a cheap salary as well, but he may have earned a contract/better opportunity elsewhere with this playoff performance. After that, qualify the RFAs and let the rest of the UFAs go as far as I’m concerned…unless there is a cheap deal to be had. There are young defensemen that deserve NHL time and plenty of depth forwards to find on the market at the right price.
One Last Note
This is my final post for The PensNation. I owe a huge thank you to Nick and Andy for bringing me on a couple of years ago and for connecting me with all of you readers. My blogging will continue elsewhere eventually and you can follow me on twitter @HockeyMeesh or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org in the meantime. Thank you for reading as always!!
Next Game: September….